5th June 2016
I replace the empty cartridge in my fountain pen and wonder how long it will be before I do that again. In the 5+ years that I have been writing for this blog I have also revised one novel and written another. During this time I have refilled the pen perhaps a thousand times; each time with a sort of elation as if the empty cartridge was proof of achievement and the new one full of ink and promise of the continuing journey of discovery that writing has held for me for 50 years.
Since I last wrote here, we have had friends with us for a week, then a few days of solitude before the arrival of the first round of family. Once again I am reminded of my limited capacity to spread myself between time with those whom I love, time to garden, and time to write. The latter is always the thing I let go of; sometimes willingly and sometimes with resentment.
It is letting go that I now wish to embrace, for one can only let go willingly: letting go with resentment is a contradiction in terms. I have broached this subject before, both here and in conversations with Joel. Yet as I approach my 70th birthday (August 8th) I find myself face to face with my continuing refusal to:
let go of achievement
let go of the idea of success
let go of the pain of rejection
let go of choosing the path of rejection
let go of the resentment at not gaining outside recognition
let go of regret
And for sure I feel regret for having sat alone at my desk for 25 years plugging away at something that been a constant source of failure in terms of achieving a publisher. For the past year I have been alternating between letting go of all of this, while continuing to experience a stone of bitterness wedged in my core. So, obviously I wasn’t truly letting go. Why? Because letting go always requires one to feel the pain of attachment. It requires one to head into terra incognito. It also requires one to take responsibility for having chosen to cling to a path of resistance.
I was talking with my daughter-in-law this morning and in so doing we discovered that our shared fear of rejection does not diminish with age. But, as we agreed, what can change is the choice to invite it. All of us have our childhood wounds, raw beneath the scar. The stories differ, but the impressions of misconception are the same. The interpretation that we come up with as children more often than not has us deciding – way back then – that the fault is ours. Because what child can bear to believe that adults could act so cruelly without good reason? And so these beliefs about ourselves form our identities: e.g., I am worthless therefore I will always be rejected.
But as adults we really do know better. We just have to be willing to re-educate ourselves each time we slip into default mode. For me the deeper question now is why do I have to perpetuate unhappiness when my life is filled with such bounty? Is it some ancient superstition that happiness equals death? On the other hand, who gives a fuck? Why not cut to the chase and cut out the behavior already?
Ten years ago I found myself in a similar situation and then one day I had the vision that I had created my own tightrope; a thin wire that stretched from my core way into the distance where a landing platform atop a ladder was barely visible. I realized that this thin wire which I had been treading had narrowed my perception of reality, whereupon I reeled myself in, sat on the landing with feet dangling and surveyed the enormous, thrilling landscape of my life.
The next day I booked a flight to London, took the train to the foot of Cornwall and checked in to a small, family run hotel on the edge of the cliffs. I took no paints or pen with me. On the first evening I was ushered to a table-for-one by a window looking out to a garden and the sea beyond. The innkeepers had placed my chair facing into the dining room, probably thinking that by so doing I would be able see and communicate with the other diners.
With the innate wisdom that we all possess, I knew that was the last thing I wanted. I had no interest in communicating with others nor did I want to tell my story one more time. I simply wanted to be. So I took the chair and switched it to face out to sea, my back turned to everyone. For 3 weeks I said, Good Morning, Good Evening, Goodnight, please and thank you. Already 17 years sober I was always the first to finish dinner, which allowed me to enjoy a half hour of solitude by the fire, in the small adjoining sitting room, sipping a cup of chamomile tea before retiring to my room.
Each morning, after breakfast, I would wander the cobblestone streets down in the village, buy a sandwich and with it and a thermos of tea would stride out across the cliff-tops. For 3 weeks I “did” nothing except be. I “did” what I truly wanted from moment to moment: sat on a rock here, a boulder there, climbed down a cliff face and sat on a rocky ledge being with the birds and the sea and the cliff. I interpreted nothing; attached no meaning to anything; had no desire to describe my experience of the world to others through writing or painting or conversation. They were the happiest 3 weeks of my life.
On the penultimate day, I took a taxi to the village of Zennor and told the driver to return for me in 4 hours. I walked the ancient paths, sat on a boulder to eat my lunch, the sea my constant companion. At one point, further along the cliff, I came to a narrow wooden footbridge. I unwrapped a bar of chocolate, my childhood favorite, and experienced utter bliss nibbling on it while watching a small gorge tumble down from the moors, down over the moss covered rocks between fern adorned banks; watched it disappear under the bridge before emerging on the other side where it rushed in wild abandon to become one with the sea.
The time has come for me to detach like that again. To put down my pen and just be. To feel the release of contained energy and let it take me where it may.
I had thought last week that I would like to take a break from the blog this summer and spend my time selecting and editing the best essays from the last 5 years, and who knows, maybe at some point I will do that. But today I am choosing to take a break from writing…period. I am choosing to let go of the attachment to achievement and merely be.
Writing the blog has been a gift to me, and from what I hear from some, a small gift to you. I have no idea who most of you are, but I have felt you out there and have welcomed your company. I’d like to think that this is just a summer hiatus but that, of course, would not really be let go. Still, I am merely human and therefore would ask you to wait a while before deleting me. I’d like to think I’d be welcome back if I so choose.
For now, I bid you adieu. The pen is empty, the fire unlit.